Happenings, News

Tragedy and Triumph

BISHOP’S EASTER MESSAGE

Good Friday reminds us of the death of Christ on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins … Easter helps us to remember the vindicating and victorious power of God and our unshakeable hope in Christ

DURING the cold war, a pastor in an Eastern European country was arrested and put in prison for his faith. He found an opportunity one day to talk to a friendly prison official. He shared his Christian faith with this man who, having lived in an atheistic social environment, knew next to nothing about the gospel story.

The man listened to the pastor with great interest as he told the story of Jesus, how He was born, how He ministered in Galilee and Judea, teaching, healing and delivering people. The man’s respect for and interest in Jesus grew as the pastor described the stories recorded in the gospels. Then the pastor related the events leading to the passion of Jesus Christ. The officer was increasingly troubled as he sensed the growing tension in the story.

When the pastor described the disturbing details about the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the atheist prison officer was silent for a while. Then he broke down and wept. In between his tears, he sobbed about how this Jesus’ wonderful life was cruelly and unjustly snuffed out. What a shame! What a loss! How cruel and terrible!

The officer looked defeated and hung his dejected face in hopeless resignation to a world that has shown the darkest aspects of human nature and society.

The pastor looked at the man kindly and with a gentle smile told him that he had not completed his story. “What more is there to say?” the puzzled officer asked. This was the most terrible story he had ever heard.

The pastor then went on to relate the extraordinary events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. As the pastor’s story unfolded, the officer’s demeanour was visibly changing. He began to smile, and then laugh. And soon his laughter broke into a dance as he joyfully ran around the room, delighted at how the story had proceeded. Christ was vindicated. There was justice after all. There is hope still left in the world.

The pastor and his listener continued to talk about this unusual tale. As they ended their conversation, the officer believed in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour and committed his life to his new master and friend.

Crucified Christ, Titian (1554). — TCN.

REALITY OF THE CROSS

‘We must not forget that we live in a tragic world. Good Friday will help us not to forget. We cannot celebrate Easter meaningfully without the tragic reality of the cross. Otherwise Christians may become superficial in their triumphalism, unaware of others who suffer as victims of injustice and indifference.’

This month, we will remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as we observe the season of Lent and celebrate Holy Week, with its highlights on Good Friday and Easter. In a season like this, we face the core truths of Christianity and the stark facts of life. Good Friday reminds us of the death of Christ on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, and a model of Christian discipleship. Easter helps us to remember the vindicating and victorious power of God and our unshakeable hope in Christ.
In the few days in which Good Friday and Easter fall, we encounter the basis of our faith. In addition we are also reminded about the reality of our faith.

Good Friday helps us to understand (over and above what it says about Jesus as saviour) the horrible reality faced by people who suffer in the hands of unjust, violent and wicked men. In Singapore we are relatively sheltered from the terrible atrocities that fill the face of the earth. Good Friday will help us to touch base with the tragedies and tragic structures that many powerless and unfortunate people live in. We live in a tragic world and we as Christians must never forget that.

By tragedy, I do not mean those little irritations and setbacks that we often find in life, as when you lose your spectacles just before the interesting tour to the scenic mountains, or when the photographs of your birthday party are spoiled. Tragedy is more serious stuff, more painful. There are real victims in real pain in tragic moments. The scene of Jesus hanging on the cross reminds us that there are victims in our world – a mother whose heart breaks as she helplessly and hopelessly watches her hungry and dying children, or a whole family in a village tortured and destroyed by cruel and violent men whose unchallenged power is maintained by their guns and bullets.

Jesus is a saviour who is not of the same mould as the world’s fantasies of a saviour (just think of Hollywood’s gun-toting superheroes). Jesus saves people by joining them in their tragedies. He saves us by entering our sinful world. He saves us from our sins in a most radical and unimagined way. He comforts victims of tragedies by becoming one of them Himself. When He cries out to heaven on the cross, He cries out for all victims on earth.

We must not forget that we live in a tragic world. Good Friday will help us not to forget. We cannot celebrate Easter meaningfully without the tragic reality of the cross. Otherwise Christians may become superficial in their triumphalism, unaware of others who suffer as victims of injustice and indifference.

Jesus saves us by entering our sinful world

The Last Supper (found in Zimbabwe). — Anglican Worl

On the other hand, Good Friday without Easter will leave us in despair, acutely aware of the tragedy deeply entrenched in our world, but strangers to the presence of the triumph of divine love and grace. We must bring Good Friday and Easter together. Easter brings hope into our situations. Jesus is vindicated and there is an assurance that all that He promised He would fulfil. It is not as if all our pain is gone or that there are no more victims of tragedies. But we believe that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. When He comes, there will be perfect justice and clear vindication. Until then we live between Good Friday and Easter, between sin and grace, between the tragic pain and the joyful hope.

In this season, we therefore see both the Victim and the Victor, tragedy as well as triumph. In our Lord Jesus Christ, we see both. Can we in the same breath lament with pain and also leap with joy? Can our eyes see both the tragedy and the triumph? Can our hearts break in sorrow and at the same time break out in song?

Can we, as Frederick Buechner has said, “bear the weight of our own sadness” and also bear the “eternal weight of glory”? (2 Cor. 4:17). If we can, then we have discovered how to live our lives with the truths of Good Friday and Easter. For the Victim of Good Friday and the Victor of Easter are the same Jesus who has died, is risen, and will come again. He is Saviour and Lord. Hallelujah!

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